New Short Fiction by Deborah Eisenberg—“Recalculating”

Apologies for the radio silence here—your humble proprietor has been sick as a dog all week. But being laid up with a Nyquil habit has its upsides: getting on top of all my RSS feeds, for one, and catching up on some online and periodical reading for another. I was especially pleased to see that there’s a new short story by Deborah Eisenberg in this week’s New York Review of Books, and it’s available to all online.

It’ll take another reading or two to really figure out how I feel about it. Right now I’m thinking this one’s like corn on the cob at the end of June—you know there’s better coming, but you’re just so damn happy to see it at all—but no matter what, there is some strikingly beautiful language in “Recalculating” that hits the storytelling nerve just right. Here is a young boy pondering the makeup of the universe:

Miss Brewer had explained. Earth was never still. It twirled like a lollipop on a stick, so that you looked at the sun and then you looked at the moon, and that was a day. But the lollipop was also swinging in a great, oval loop, like the rim of a platter, around the sun. It always went back right where it had started, but only when one whole year had been pushed out into space for good.

And—because themes cosmological matter in this story—a midwestern storm:

First the air turned yellow. Yellow. And a black sort of veil dropped over it. And then the sooty yellow slowly turned a lush, rippling green. There were streaks of rose.

Then—everything went silent, silent and completely still. Except that way off in the sky, the black veil was spinning itself into a tiny, crazed, spinning black funnel, leaving the sky a clear yellow again, or green, as it twisted itself into shape after shape, skimming along toward you in the silence, like a dancer filled with god, growing larger and larger by the instant. All your senses were aroused and your whole body was alert, as though in expectation of some wonderful arrival.

The universe was poised, waiting. Then—a bird chirped nervously on a branch: a signal! Abruptly, a delicious fragrance released, and all the growing things for miles around started to shimmer and rustle. The air was chattering and filled with the soft thumping and scampering of little animals as they began to run.

It’s those emphases, the “chattering” and the “run,” that move her description away from Bambi in the forest into a realm where the beautiful and sinister can coexist for the reader within a paragraph or two—that’s why I’ll always be excited to read something new from Eisenberg. Thanks, NYRB, for making the sickbed a little more fun; it’s back to work tomorrow.

(Photo of Deborah Eisenberg by Diana Michener.)

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